February 27, 2012
Lounge ON20 chef gets invitation to big-time Napa Valley event

The accolades and opportunities continue to pile up for Pajo Bruich, the talented executive chef at Lounge ON20 in midtown.

Hot off a Valentine's dinner that won raves, Bruich has been recruited to show off his modernist cuisine at a special event in Napa Valley this spring.

Bruich is slated to be a featured guest chef at one of the private estate dinners for this year's Napa Valley Wine Auction. It's a who's who of the food and wine folks in the Napa Valley, and it is quite an honor for Bruich to be invited, especially when you scan your eyes down the list of other chefs involved: Thomas Keller, Christopher Kostow, Cindy Pawlcyn and Gary Danko, among others.

Bruich's dinner will be May 31 in conjunction with J.P. Harbison Wines, a boutique winery in Oakville. The winery is owned by Sacramento attorney Joe Harbison.

This is a big opportunity and more great recognition for Sacramento restaurants. Last week, The Kitchen was named a semi-finalist for a James Beard award for outstanding Restaurant.

Even though Bruich's special event is three months away, he's not only psyched, he's thinking about what he will cook. At this dinner, there really are no limitations and few budget constraints. It's a dream for a chef, who normally has to make sure the dollar signs make sense.

Bruich is a real talent. So his lounge ON20's chef de cuisine and maestro of charcuterie Mike Ward, who is expected to participate. Update: I just found out that pastry chef Elaine Baker, formerly of Grange and Lounge ON20, will be handling desserts.

"They have completely given me carte blanche," Bruich said of Harbison. "They did not give them any restrictions whatsoever with the food costs.

I asked what his thinking process will be like as he searches for ideas that may or may not find their way to his plates.

"I'm going to pretend that for one night that I own my own restaurant and I have no restrictions on what I am going to do. This is going to be the best meal I have cooked in my life. I want to do things that have meaning, have purpose, that have soul. I want to tell a story. I want it to be art, something that challenges people emotionally and makes them really think about what's going on...

"I'm going to think about what this dinner means to me, what it means to the guests, and then I'm going to write the story and tell the story through food."

That's more than a little ambitious. It's great to see this kind of attitude in a chef. Bruich wants to create. He wants to be new. He wants to be great.

Can't wait to see what he comes up with.

Here is a complete listing of the events and how to participate.

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter, @blarob.

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